“I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some” (1 Corinthians 9:22).

Portrait of Spurgeon by Alexander Melville

In their book, The Pastor Theologian: Resurrecting an Ancient Vision, authors Gerald Hiestand and Todd A. Wilson claim that the church must confront the “bifurcation of the theologian and the pastor” in order to heal the “theological anemia of the church and the ecclesial anemia of theology.”[1] I concur with the authors that a need exists for the resurgence of more theologians residing not merely within the local church, the broader church footprint, the academy, and society, but theologians must do more than occupy a particular domain; they must once more bridge these multiple arenas and repair the disconnect that has evolved over the past few centuries. Although my current program of study, PhD in Bible Exposition, is more likely to focus on biblical theology, rather than systematic theology, I believe the systematic approach more often promoted in the “pastor theologian” concept is transferable to the realm of biblical theology and scholarship. Both methodologies complement one another and provide a basis for a partnership of sorts wherein the pastor theologian brings the academy to the church and the church to the academy.[2]

Hiestand and Wilson envision a pastor theologian paradigm, whose primary vocational identity is that of a pastor with a shepherd’s heart, yet who also functions as an intellectual peer of the academic theologian. The authors advocate for a pastorate producing theological scholarship for the broader ecclesial community, which they assert will help shape and inform academic, cultural, and ecclesial discourse in order to deepen the faith of God’s people. [3] There is no immutable conflict with regard to pastor theologian concept envisioned here, in fact, categorizing systematic and biblical theological approaches as mutually exclusive would be a misnomer, given both are biblical and not opposites.[4] Consequently, it is my contention that a program of study emphasizing biblical theology is ideal for laying the groundwork necessary for engaging systematic application when appropriate, and hence, my love of scholarship need not be compromised on account of my heart for the church, or vise versa.

As Paul charges Timothy, “Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction” (2 Timothy 4:2, ESV). [5] Whether a pastor theologian is local, popular, or ecclesial, the pastorate serves as the primary theologian of their congregation, the authors recognize potential overlap between the three divisions. [6] Perceiving these “divisions of labor,” as Hiestand and Wilson illustrate them, within a rigid either/or construct, not only signifies much of the problem their book seeks to address, but falls prey to the same kind of misnomer that arises when biblical and systematic theology receive a similar incongruous treatment. Regarding my ministerial vision and goals, the ecclesial theologian is perhaps the most representative, though I recognize potential overlap with the other two divisions. I consider teaching, whether professionally or not, a ministry, and I would identify my students within the context of congregates. What is more, my ministerial aspirations entail providing theological guidance to God’s people within and outside of the church, thereby adding an ecclesial relevance to the theological discourse with other theologians and scholars. I am encouraged to seek in the local church a conducive environment for reading, studying, and writing more deeply.

According to Hiestand and Wilson, earning a PhD is a first strategy (though not absolutely necessary in my opinion) for becoming an ecclesial theologian in a local church.[7] My own goals align with the “pastor theologian” concept by pursuing the scholarship needed in order to engage the level of intellectual rigor necessary to demonstrate an extensive understanding of biblical and theological themes found within the academic dialogue. In addition, I view the Bible Exposition program, which emphasizes more of a biblical theology with a broader scriptural approach, as ideal for bridging the dichotomy that currently exists between the pastorate and the academy. Whereas academics who have narrowed their scholarly pursuits to such a degree, Hiestand and Wilson charge have lost sight of the trees for the forest. Consequently, my program of study seeks to prepare students to minister to the spiritual needs of ordinary Christians in the local church setting and reflect that awareness in our contribution to scholarship. In fact, as a pastor theologian, working principally in and for the local church, I will be positioned to incorporate my skillfulness as a generalist with my insight as a shepherd in order to help the larger Christian academy produce better resources for the broader church.[8]

Of course not all PhD students are current pastors and not every graduate will go on to pursue the pulpit. My own aspirations involving teaching wherein I would reach a constantly changing student body who, presumably, would in turn take what they learn back to their local church communities, while remaining engaged in my own local church would enable me to remain in touch with the daily, practical concerns of worshipers. I recognize an opportunity afforded to me through my studies, by acquiring greater skills to better serve the local church, while bringing to the academy a much needed pastoral perspective. For the sake of the Gospel, Paul writes “I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some” (1 Corinthians 9:22), and my studies in light of the “pastor theologian” concept affords me with the opportunity to see the world through the eyes of others, while stretching myself as an academic by infusing this humility and awareness into my scholarship. As the authors describe them, “the ecclesial theologian is a theologian who constructs theology as a vocational pastor.”[9]

Although it is not possible to go back in time, perhaps, it is possible for the new generation of pastor theologians to mitigate the Enlightenment’s divorce of divine revelation from reason and thought.[10] As I move forward, I am put in mind of something Charles Spurgeon is supposed to have said, “The people in the marketplace cannot learn the language of the academy, so the people in the academy must learn the language of the marketplace.”

The local theologian is a pastor who provides theology to a local congregation; the popular theologian offers more widely accessible theological reflection for a broader swath of the church; and the ecclesial theologian gives theological leadership to other theologians and scholars, all the while keeping a close eye on genuine ecclesial (as opposed to academic) concerns. [11]

[1] Gerald Hiestand and Todd A. Wilson, The Pastor Theologian: Resurrecting an Ancient Vision (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2015), 79.

[2] Ibid., 97.

[3] Ibid., 15.

[4] D.A. Carson and John D. Woodbridge, Scripture and Truth (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1983), 80.

[5] Unless otherwise noted, all biblical passages referenced are in the English Standard Version.

[6] Gerald Hiestand and Todd A. Wilson, The Pastor Theologian: Resurrecting an Ancient Vision (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2015), 85.

[7] Ibid., 104.

[8] Ibid., 96.

[9] ibid., 88.

[10] Ibid., 44.

[11] Ibid., 17.

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